14 Apr 2011

Hospital fashion!

I was searching the 'net for "kattun", which is the period term for printed cotton fabric (derived, of course, from cotton). Since there - obviously - is a Japanese pop group called KAT-TUN, an image search proved to be quite frustrating. Trust me. But in the end, I found something very interesting.

Belonging to the collections of the Army museum here in Stockholm are 32 shirts labelled "hospital shirts" or "night shirts". They had been stacked away in storage on the island of Gotland until 1919 when they were given to the museum. Information is a bit scarce, but here is what we know (and by "we", I mean Army museum...):

It's the year1808. Sweden is at war with Russia and Denmark/Norway. War means battles and battles means wounded men in need of care and medical equipment. And hospital clothing.

C A Staaff. 1870's illustration

hospital shirts were required to be made in Stockholm. They were to be made from linen, white with blue stripes...

Images copyright of Armémuseum, Stockholm

Not quite as described?

We don't know why these shirts came to look as they did. 1808 was a year where mostly everything was in hight demand due to the war and bad harvests and the factory obliged to deliver the shirts obviously couldn't get hold of enough of the right fabric, and had to make do with whatever they could find. Which happened to be an assortment of very fashionable cotton prints...

Images copyright of Armémuseum, Stockholm

The museum description says that the shirts seem to have been made in great haste with a very simple construction, like an infant's shirt with no side seams and sleeves attached with a minimum of care.

The prints have been identified as the work of Lamm's kattun factory at Lilla Blecktornet in Stockholm, signed Salomon Aron Moses Lamm (Lamm is by the way one of the oldest Jewish families in Sweden).

Did the factory rob its inventory of every available remnant to be able to secure the order of 5,000 shirts? How many were made in the end? The museum description doesn't tell us anything about the condition of the shirts but from what I can tell, they look well preserved. Perhaps they never got into service at all? One of the many problems with the 1808-09 war was the poor logistics. Supplies often ended up nowhere near the troops that (badly) needed them, so it is possible that these shirts weren't used. Or that some out of the 5,000 shirts were used, but just not these 32.

At any rate, it is a bit amusing to imagine the reactions on these shirts. The field hospital is up and running but badly under-equipped. The starving men are bleeding in their uniforms. It's cold. But lo! Finally some supplies! An eager surgeon opens a much longed for crate. Will it contain food? Medical equipment? At least some bandages? He stares at the contents in disbelief. Printed cotton in all the colours of the rainbow: "What the deuce is this?"

We'll never know for sure. But follow this link and you can admire all the 32 shirts (clicking an item will allow you to click again for a larger image). Some of them have been examined more closely in a 1953 book on Swedish kattuns that I will look up at the library whenever I get the chance.


  1. Absolutely fascinating!

    Very best,


  2. Interesting! Some of those are quite...colorful! Far better than the smocks we have to wear now. :-)

  3. I'm glad you found them interesting, Natalie!

    Isabella: Indeed. I wonder if more fun smocks could have a positive impact on recovery... I'd say yes!

    Have a nice weekend both of you